Although assault and battery are terms that are used interchangeably to refer to the same crime, assault and battery are actually two separate crimes. Additionally, a charge of assault and battery refers to a crime in which both of these separate crimes are committed.
According to criminal law, the crime of assault and battery is a combination of two crimes that frequently arise simultaneously. As such, it is helpful to discuss the differences of the two crimes (assault and battery) before further discussing the combined crime of assault and battery.
Assault generally refers to the criminal act of intentionally causing another person to reasonably fear imminent bodily harm, or offensive contact. Although this definition is subject to the specific laws of the jurisdiction hearing the case, the general standards are as follows:
- The defendant must have intended to cause reasonable fear of harm in the victim. What this means is that an accidental act will not generally result in assault charges. The act must be intentional;
- The victim must have reasonably believed that they would be harmed or offended by the defendant’s conduct. Another way of putting this is that the victim must be aware of or be able to appreciate the defendant’s potential to harm or offend them;
- This belief of impending injury must be both reasonable, and one that creates a sense of immediate and physical danger. This belief cannot be based on a future act, and must be more than a verbal threat although there are some exceptions; and
- The defendant must show a present intention to harm or offend the victim through a physical act.
Some common examples of assault include, but may not be limited to:
- Attempting to spit on the victim;
- Miming the act of hitting, punching, or kicking;
- Weilding a deadly or non-deadly weapon in such a way that suggests the victim will be hit with that object; and
- Pointing a gun at the victim, regardless of whether the gun is loaded.
Battery involves the unauthorized application of force against another person’s body, resulting in offensive touching or actual physical injury. There are various types of battery, which are dependent on each state’s laws. These types are grouped according to the class of victim. An example of this would be how battery can be subdivided into other categories, such as:
- Battery against law enforcement;
- Battery against children;
- Battery against spouses; and
- Battery against the elderly.
Depending on the victim’s class, some battery charges are considered to be aggravated charges. What this means is that such charges will result in felony charges, instead of misdemeanor charges.
What Is Assault And Battery? How Is Assault And Battery Punished?
As previously mentioned, assault and battery should not be confused with one another. This is largely due to the fact that jurisdictions treat them as separate offenses. An easy way to remember the difference between the two crimes is that battery requires the use of force and actual contact; an assault requires the victim to reasonably believe or be aware that they are in danger of imminent harm, even if no actual physical injury occurs. To put it simply, assault and battery refers to a combined attempt and act of making injurious contact with another person.
In terms of the charge of assault and battery, the penalties depend on whether you are being charged with simple assault or battery, or if you are being charged with aggravated assault or aggravated battery. Penalties are largely determined by the type of harm that was inflicted on the victim.
An example of this would be how if the victim’s harm resulted in serious injury, or if it is determined that the defendant had an intent to kill the victim, the judge could order a harsher penalty and sentence. A judge may also impose a harsher penalty if other aggravating factors are present, such as a specific identifying aspect of the victim.
Some common examples of potential punishments include, but may not be limited to:
- Imprisonment, the length of which is determined by the severity of the crime;
- Parole or probation;
- Court ordered, mandatory anger management classes;
- Significant fines, the amount of which are determined by the severity of the crime; and
- Loss of the right to possess firearms.
Additionally, the crime will be recorded on the defendant’s criminal record.
If you are found guilty of committing the crime of assault and battery, you may also be held civilly liable. This means that your victim could sue you for causing them harm. If their case against you is successful, you could be responsible for the following costs associated with the victim’s:
- Physical injuries;
- Pain and suffering;
- Out of pocket medical expenses;
- Hospital expenses;
- Prescriptions; and
- Wages missed from work because of the injuries sustained.
What Are Some Assault And Battery Defenses?
For an assault charge, the victim must have reasonably feared that they would be harmed. For a battery charge, they must have actually been harmed. If any element of the assault or battery cannot be proven, the claim will not be successful.
Defenses available for assault and battery charges will vary greatly based on specific circumstances surrounding each case. Some general legal defenses that are used in assault and battery cases include:
- The Claim Cannot Be Proven: Each element of the charge must be proven. As previously mentioned, the defendant must have intended to commit an assault or battery. If it can be shown that they did not possess such intention, neither assault or battery can be proven;
- Intoxication From Alcohol Or Drugs: If the accused became voluntarily intoxicated by drugs or alcohol, this will not serve as an acceptable defense. This defense will only work if they unknowingly became intoxicated, such as they were drugged;
- Mental Illness: Mental illness, or another medical condition which creates an incapacity for forming intent, may serve as a defense to reduce punishment. A successful plea of insanity would likely result in being committed to psychiatric care;
- Simple Mistake: The defendant may not have meant to commit an assault or battery. This defense is entirely dependent on whether it can be proven that the defendant acted intentionally;
- Self Defense: The person claiming self defense must prove that they were afraid they would be harmed, and that they did not act first. Additionally, they must prove that they had no other option but to retaliate physically;
- Defense of Others: Similar to self-defense, the accused must prove that they had a reasonable fear that someone else would be harmed, instead of showing that they themselves were afraid of being harmed;
- Defense of Property: The defendant will need to prove that they had a reasonable fear that their property would be damaged, and there was no way to respond but with assault and/or battery;
- Consent: If the alleged victim consented to the act, this could serve as a defense. An example of this would be playing a contact sport, such as wrestling;
- Privilege: Some are granted the privilege to commit assault and battery with impunity. An example of this would be how law enforcement are allowed to commit assault and battery when they claim it was necessary for their job; and/or
- Mistaken Identity or Alibi: A potential defense would be if the defendant can show that they were not at the scene, and have an alibi to prove it. Another defense would be if the alleged victim misidentified their attacker.
Do I Need an Attorney For Assault And Battery?
If you are being charged with assault and/or battery, you will need to contact an experienced and local criminal defense lawyer immediately. An experienced and local criminal defense attorney will be best suited to explaining your state’s specific laws, and how they will affect your legal options.
Your criminal defense attorney will be able to help you determine whether there are any legal defenses available to you. Finally, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court, while protecting your rights.